Blog author: jarmstrong
by on Monday, May 21, 2007

Commentators call it “The Religion Test.” What does it mean when the Constitution says there should be no religious test for holding office in the United States? Historically it has plainly meant that no candidate, be they a Quaker, a Baptist, a Pentecostal or a Mormon can be barred from office because of their religion. The question is once again on the table with the serious candidacy of Mitt Romney for the presidency. And many who are concerned about Romney’s faith are evangelicals. There is a strange joining of prejudice here as the secular left seems to agree, to some extent at least, with some in the religious right.

It is fair to ask a candidate where they stand on school vouchers and abortion questions but what about their interpretations of the Bible? Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, recently challenged some of Joseph Smith’s more outrageous doctrinal beliefs by suggesting that he was obviously a “con man.” Since Mitt Romney is a Mormon Weisberg wants to know if he really believes what Smith taught since if he does then Weisberg does not want him to run the country. Christian commentator and talk-show host, Hugh Hewitt, calls this kind of response “unashamed bigotry.” Is it?

Romney himself speaks of people using “caricatures that pick some obscure aspect of [one’s] faith . . . and assume it was the central element.” Make no mistake about it, many evangelicals are uncomfortable with voting for a Mormon. The issue intrigues me since the last time we had this kind of discussion was in 1960 when evangelicals were not yet ready to vote for a Roman Catholic. My own pastor told us that a vote for Jack Kennedy was “a vote for the papacy.” That was enough to scare many of the faithful into a vote for Nixon even though they were Southern Democrats.

Mormonism is viewed as a cult by many Christians. I am not thrilled with the common use of the term cult but I am firmly persuaded that Mormonism is not orthodox, confessional, apostolic Christianity. In 2001 the Vatican even ruled that Mormon baptism was not Christian baptism, an interpretation I also share. But should this matter in our choice of a president?

Very simply put, I think it all depends on the particular person. In Romney’s case he is the only one of the front-runners who is still married to his first wife and who has a role-model family. But what a person is, his actions and views, matter deeply with regard to his capacity to lead and serve, or at least they should. Does a Mormon have the intellectual seriousness to lead the country? Some in the secular left think Romney cannot pass such a test simply because he is a Mormon. Hugh Hewitt warns evangelicals that this kind of bias is double-edged and points at them just as much as at Mormons. Theology, Hewitt insists, must not become a “test” for the oval office.

The interesting thing here is that Romney’s role models for going forward have to be Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, who both argued for a deeply felt religious faith that did not need to be tightly defined. Romney, following Ike’s approach, has said, “I think the American people want a person of faith to lead the country. I don’t think Americans care what brand of faith someone has.” Ike once said, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

We call this kind of faith civil religion. It has absolutely nothing to do with real Christian faith or the proper role of the church and its missional relationship to the kingdom of Christ. But it seems to have a limited role in our particular society, so long as it doesn’t turn faith into sheer mush and nonsense, which it can and sometimes has done. In our present context, where a growing percentage of folks want no mention of faith in public at all, there is a place for such civil religion to counterbalance the secularist assault on the freedom of faith expression. But in the end civil religion will never profoundly shape or change the nation. It is a kind of cultural expression of general religion that makes it possible for all faith, including real faith, to be expressed in charitable and civil ways. It is nothing more and nothing less as I see it.

There are two Buddhists and a Muslim in the U. S. House of Representatives now. Americans are clearly more diverse than ever before. I personally think it is time to retire the “religion test” as a litmus standard for the presidency. It is not time, however, to retire the character test. These two questions are not necessarily related. How will a man act when faced with broadly moral questions that determine his leadership? I hope that question always remains on the table but increasingly I think it is also being lost. Maybe this debate will put it back on the table in a positive way.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."


  • Bot

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often misunderstood. Some accuse the Church of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article helps to clarify such misconceptions

    Baptism:

    Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. http://www.imj.org.il/eng/exhibitions/2000/christianity/ancientchurch/structure/index.html
    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and not allowing non-Christians to witness them

    The Trinity:

    A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ, His Son, being separate, divine beings, united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration?

    The Nicene Creed”s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity, which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one.”

    Scribes later added “the Father, the Word and the Spirit,” and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. . . .He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity.
    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate beings, in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

    The Cross:

    The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection, not his crucifixion on the Cross. Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming.

    Christ’s Atonement:

    But Mormons don”t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement in Gethsemane and on the Cross applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”:. All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.

    It”s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

    * * *

    And the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . LDS Evangelical
    Attend Religious Services weekly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71% . . . . 55%
    Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life –
    extremely important .. 52. . . . . . . 28
    Believes in life after death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 . . . . . . 62
    Believes in psychics or fortune-tellers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 5
    Has taught religious education classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 . . . . . . 28
    Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 . . . . . . 22
    Sabbath Observance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 . . . . . . 40
    Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 . . . . . . 56
    Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 . . . . . . 19
    Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen
    (very supportive) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65 . . . . . . 26
    Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping
    Teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality . . . . . 84 . . . . . . 35